Rugby Union: Long weekend for Five Nations

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The Independent Online
They said it had would happen, and it has. Winter Saturday afternoons will never be the same again after yesterday's announcement that next year's Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England will be the first Five Nations' game to be played on a Sunday.

The Murrayfield fixture on 22 March will be the first of two Five Nations games to be switched next season, Wales v France at Wembley on 5 April being the other.

In another break with tradition, staggered Saturday kick-off times will also be tried in a move aimed, according to FIve Nations' organisers, at heightening the profile of the tournament and making it available to a wider audience.

"It is the express wish of the Five Nations Committee to enable as big an audience as possible to witness the oldest and most respected rugby tournament in the world," Roger Pickering, the Five Nations chief executive, said. "We feel the time is now right to change the format of the championship that has been in place since 1974."

For the players, some adjustments will be necessary. "From the players and supporters point of view, all their biorhythms are for a Saturday so this will take some getting used to," the England coach, Jack Rowell, said. "Increasingly, though, top level rugby is being played on a Sunday, especially given the amounts of television investment, but we look forward to it. From a logistical point of view, it will have no effect on our preparations."

The BBC is all for the change. "We welcome this refreshingly flexible approach to the Five Nations format which ensures that viewers will see even more live rugby union on BBC television," Jonathan Martin, Controller of Television Sport, said. "It has been increasingly frustrating in recent years to have two matches played at the same time."

The Scottish Rugby Union also expressed its support, albeit qualified. "Despite having some reservations,the SRU neither believes that neither spectator numbers nor public interest will diminish," its president, Fred McLeod, said.

1998 FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP Revised schedule: 7 Feb France v England (tba); Ireland v Scotland (3.0). 21 Feb Scotland v France (3.0); England v Wales (tba). 7 Mar Wales v Scotland (3.45); France v Ireland (tba). 21 Mar Ireland v Wales (3.0). 22 Mar Scotland v England (3.0). 4 Apr England v Ireland (tba). 5 Apr Wales v France (3.0).

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